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Meet the Rough Scientists

Carriacou Diary: Mike Leahy



Day 2

Like much of the West Indies there had been an exodus in Carriacou during the 1960s and 1970s. This had implications on the social dynamics of the community and their self-esteem. Apparently, they were quite an old fashioned bunch. Young people remained "children" until the age of twenty one and shirts were to be worn in shops etc. Dario, a charismatic, slim Italian whose eyes look into opposite directions went on to tell us not to swear or drink too much, that the island was the people's lounge. "Don't interfere with the flower garden". He then told us that previous film crews caused trouble by upsetting the local economy and causing arguments. Apparently a crew filming for a soft drink had caused a riot at the hotel. He said that, apart from the Paradise Bay murder a couple of years ago, there was no crime and that following the murder no-one smiled for two weeks.

After all the paranoia, we were told about the natural risks. These included electric rays, sting rays, scorpion fish, jelly fish, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, stinging centipedes (the worse of all with a sting like a viper) and finally a horrible tree called the Manchineal tree. Cool! Horrible beasties, horrible plants, suspicious people!

At first we walked through the next village — Bogles — then past Dario's house and further up a dirt track. As we reached an area of pasture we broke off the track to the right and headed steeply uphill. After a while, we turned right and climbed up through some woodland and finally arrived at High North. The view was amazing. There were so many islands. It was only 954 feet but seemed far higher. As we sat eating pineapple we realised that the sun was behind us. But I knew that we were facing south. Ellen agreed that we were facing south but how come the sun was behind us. Kathy was certain we were facing north. It didn't take Jonathan long to come up with an explanation. Because it was the northern summer the sun appeared to be further north — higher in the sky in the UK, for example, but still visible to the south. Here, close to the equator, it was viewed to the north at noon — cool! Ellen pointed out the manchineal trees — very nasty. The fruits look like crab apples. Kate had very nearly been fooled on our first day.


Day 3 — First Filming Day

Lost my notebook. We were up at six (the usual time). Carriacou gets going early. As usual, things were running late so we had plenty of time to chill out before leaving for the filming site. I had breakfast in my room to save cash and get some time on my own. I wanted to train / workout or at least practice my Taekwondo patterns but it's far too hot, even in the morning. After breakfast I visited the others, content in the fact that four breakfasts have cost me under $EC10 instead of nearly $EC100. The starlings were already picking on the remains of breakfast. Not like European starlings, these were elegant birds, the males being a stunning black.

The lime factoryEventually we left in a minibus. The lime factory was pretty cool in a hot sort of way. Situated right next to the sea, it looked like Willy Wonker's chocolate factory turned inside out — incongruous next to the beautiful sea and palm trees. Around the factory the grass had been kept short by grazing cattle and trees were sparse. Startling flamboyant trees punctuated the green of the surrounding vegetation and smart concrete roads circled the parameter of the site. Pieces of machinery were dumped everywhere, particularly lots of Land Rovers and bits of Land Rover. The sea breeze had been no good for these fellas because they were absolutely rotten and rusty.

Like any job there are ups and downs in filming. One of the major downs are the early set-up shots, whereby we have to walk in a line one way, then the other, and finally through a door. This took about three hours with us standing around in the sun. Another piece of filming that I really don't like are the "wow" moments like discovering our tools and resources. As I've begun to grow up I've been far less tolerant of people and I don't like b*llsh*t. For some reason this means that I can no longer suck up to people and I find it impossible to act. The rest of the shoot will be less set up apparently.

By midday I had a headache, was terminally bored and would willingly have taken the next flight home. I was sick of different members of the team competing for attention, the forced laughter, the false friendship and lack of sincerity. That said, the venue was perfect, most of the team were cool and there was plenty of laughter which wasn't forced.

As I chilled out at lunch away from the others I contemplated the sight that would have met me had I visited the lime factory in the seventies. It must have been a very difficult place to work. There were stationary engines dotted everywhere, some had simple reservoirs of water for cooling, just like an open saucepan on a hot plate. It must have been so hot and humid here — unbearable for the workers.


Day 4 — Mapping

Scientific integrity lost?

Today, to ensure that I would be happy and have plenty of energy I took a stock of chocolate biscuits with me. We arrived at the lime factory and were given our tasks. Mike and Ellen had to make paper and a pen with ink. Not bad — we all take this for granted and shouldn't do. Jonathan got the challenge of recording sound. No chance I thought. Kathy and I got map making. It was the challenge to cover the whole of the island north of the lime factory. In itself this wasn't difficult, however, two sets of problems were to get in our way.

1. We were without pen, paper or any form of measuring device.

2. David Shulman, our director, is a wonderful bloke but a perfectionist and I knew we were going to face many takes to get each shot right.

More to the point, the filming schedule had been fixed in advanced leaving very little time for a labour intensive challenge. By now, Kathy and I were getting on really well — she was a real star! We agreed on most things and were both frustrated by the TV schedule getting in the way of succeeding in our challenge. One thing we agreed on from the start was the use of SI (Metres, Grams, Litres etc) rather than go for micky-mouse made-up theatrical units. Firstly, we measured people's heights to get an idea of how to make an accurate metre rule but then I found a 1.5mm pitch threaded bar and a 10mm spanner. This made things far easier, and within half an hour's work (and a couple of hours' filming) we had made a compass, protractor and ruler. Using the ruler and the equation circumferance=2 x pi x radius we worked out that a wheel with a diameter of 320ish mm would travel 1m each revolution. By chance, we had an old wheelbarrow with a tyre size of 330mm diameter by 70mm wide. It had worn down so was pretty close to the 320mm we wanted.

At this point, filming was going OK although it always slowed us down, sometimes very badly. For the book, our heights was as follows:

Kathy 1.68
Kate 1.73
Mike 1.74
J 1.79
Me and Ellen 1.80.

Ellen was still suffering from sunburn and was very tired. She had worked hard couldn't be sleeping well with her badly sunburnt legs.

Down to work! At first, Kathy and I aimed to use a baseline of 100m to work out various dimensions. In essence, that sounded simple enough. From there it got much more complicated. Scale diagrams would be difficult because of the large distances involved so I reckoned we would need some maths. Kathy is great at maths but I'm not so good. I really can't cope with tangents etc. but I hoped I would contribute to the challenge by way of commonsense. I was sure it would come together somehow but I bloody hate maths.

On top of no pen, paper, rulers, calculators etc I began to feel more than a little lost. We were in the Northern hemisphere, however, the sun at midday was in the North. This was because we were only a little north of the equator and in the northern summer the earth's tilt moves the sun northwards. Of course, this made everything look upside down to me because I often use the sun as a reference and in the northern hemisphere would expect the sun to be directly south at noon. Bummer!

PM

Sketch plan thwarted

By lunchtime we were sorted. Although it was hot, very hot, we made our way to the beach to take measurements. It should have been easy. But no chance. As was often the way with television there were three takes of me just putting the instruments down. After another hour, we still hadn't taken any measurements and as the tide continued to come in it started to rain, hard. This rather messed up a very flash shot with a stump cam on a long piece of wood. There was little chance of achieving our task now, but at least we had one baseline measurement. The next task once we were confident of our apparatus was to get a high point but we were behind schedule so climbing to the highest point of the island was not an option that day. Measurements were difficult to take partly because of the filming schedule but also because the vegetation was so dense.

Even so, we did try to make a sketch map.


Day 5 — Mapping

My birthday

I opened my cards and pressies at 12.30am as I was working late trying to get my head round the map. It reminded me of when I was a kid. Even so, I managed to get up quite early that morning. Once I'd woken up, I was called to reception for a very welcome call from home from my gorgeous girlfriend. Shame I wasn't at home with her. Then, J came in to give me a birthday present. A cool, green water pistol. Otherwise, I was a bit under the weather. I had snagged myself on a weird tree the previous day while climbing a mountain and was experiencing an allergic reaction. In addition, some horrible biting thing had made a meal of my buttcheeks.

Today, we were to work our way bay by bay around the island. It was going to be hard work.

Although the hard work today was to be walking through soft sand, trekking across cactus-covered headlands and wading through deep water we would generate data that would take hours to process. Even if we managed to get today's task sorted, it was nowhere near the end. The first beach we arrived at by foot. It was covered in broken coral which made it impossible to use the roller to measure distance, so we tried string. This snagged on the coral so we ended up pacing. Because this was part of the first bay Kathy numbered it bay 1.5. We took a boat from here to bay 2 which was beautifully sheltered and covered in sand. After taking measurements we had lunch with Laurence and Gordon (our boatman and Police guide) close to a fisherman's camp. Gordon found a Noonoo tree — apparently the juice is worth EC$100 per bottle. Bay 3 was less sheltered and it was good fun getting off the boat as it pitched up and down. Today we were supposedly going to get on with the challenge without interference by the crew. But David asked if we would like to walk up a beautiful headland to take a compass reading. The "10 minute walk" turned into a two hour marathon. We had more or less run out of water or sun protection and because we were wearing sandals the numerous cacti were having a field day with our feet. The big thorns just drew blood but the small ones broke off and were very difficult to get out, causing considerable pain as we walked along. Thank God for Swiss Army Knives! We were sunburnt, parched with thirst and bleeding by the time we reached the end of the point, but it was gorgeous. An old cannon marked the end of the prominary and we could see around most of the Northern most beaches in addition to countless other islands. The sea was very rough here and we could see evidence of a big reef making the water several gorgeous deep tones of blue.

Finally, after much messing around, we had time to get some readings. Laurence suggested a short cut and we were soon sliding down a muddy drop — very difficult with all the camera gear. Bay 4 was long and wild with big waves and a roaring wind. We took measurements quickly because the waves were making it to the top of the beach. It was a long trudge to the other end, especially with the measuring wheel being bloody heavy. When we got there we realised that getting to the next beach would be tricky. In the end we waded around the minor headland and came to the last beach we were able to reach. At the end there was a beautiful, but incredibly dense, mangrove swamp. It was an awesome place — virtually free of humans and home to any number of animals and birds. We had taken all the readings we could so set off back home through the choppy waves in Lawrence's boat. We got soaked as we motored through a rainstorm and I was cold when we finally reached the bar. Once there I was given a present and a card to numerous choruses of Happy Birthday.

Definitely a birthday to remember. Cool!


Day 6 — Mapping

I wasn't so much woken by my alarm but by the torrential rain outside. It doesn't usually last long but this shower kept coming. Normal departure time (7.15am) passed and the usual congregation hadn't assembled in the yard. Looks like a late start. "Enjoy the weather" said the DJ of the local radio station: "It's raining out there — beautiful, but dress and walk appropriately. Let's play some cool music on this super rainy Saturday". We're certainly not in the UK I thought. The weather was caused by tropical depression number 2 but should have been over by the end of the day. Today was the last day of Kathy and my attempt to map the island. We had no pen, paper, calculator, compass or method of measuring distance. In addition, the island was so forested that there were no vantage points where we could get an overview of the island. Therefore, we needed to rely on lots of rather disparate data and measurements from each bay.

After getting to the lime factory we started sketching and number crunching — difficult when writing on leaves with no calculator. In addition, talking was made almost impossible because Sarah constantly wanted us to be quiet. J really had a problem and was being terribly held up by filming because he could never do any sawing. I relaxed while Kathy was filmed calculating and glanced around the lime factory. The roof repairs, makeshift shed and tool store had been made from the wood taken from an old home that the production team had bought. Nothing here was wasted.

A chilled out morning.

Loads of little fruit bats flitted around the main workshop area. I dozed in an old wooden seat. The rain had stopped but it was still cool. I'm looking forward to the holiday break between shoots more than anything but I still want time to stand still. A dog wanders through the factory. He reminds me of my dog, Jasper, and for a second I think of home. I'm in a very lazy mood and this place is perfect for being lazy.

By late morning I had something to do — an audio interview. I was to explain the reasons for mapping, the benefits of climbing the highest point and what it was like to climb High North. It went OK: loads of huge millipedes, butterflies bigger than birds, hummingbirds smaller than butterflies, land tortoises and millions of lizards. Noone should ever starve here. I walked back to the lime factory and for once there was some mud — could do with my dirtbike.

Funny Memories of the beaches

Derek's Bum

Derek the cameraman was changing for a swim. Just as he took his boxers off, I got my camera ready and on the signal, Kathy pulled his towel up. Click — got him.

The Unfortunate Couple

Thursday evening we ate at the Green Roof restaurant. It would have been a very romantic place had there not been a fifteen strong film crew there. Unfortunately, next to us were a couple who were out for a romantic meal. I felt sorry for them because I wanted to go there in my week off for exactly the same reason.

Next day, Friday, we were surveying beaches. At Beach 2 (Anse-le-Roche) we hammered in some stakes at one end and walked 100m (109 yards) to the other end to set up a base line. We did some filming and data collection and were just about to walk to the first stake when we saw a young couple 'frollicking' in the water. Of course, by the time we returned to the stake we were right next to them when we started filming. These were the same couple as before — poor buggers.

PM

Did a lot of shots of me setting up a baseline. It was tricky using the gear on my own, especially when the filming compromised positions etc. Even so, with Kathy doing the maths I've made High North 1,635m (5,364 ft.) away and 350m (1,148 ft.) high. Using more primitive methods (but Kathy's distance) I calculated 310m (1,017 ft.).

We were called over to see what Ellen and Mike B had been doing. They had made some brilliant rustic paper and loads of ink. It was all wonderfully arranged and Ellen had even made a test strip. The only small problem came when the inks were inadvertently mixed. Kathy had drawn an outline in black and when she drew sand beaches in yellow the inks merged and turned red.

Back at 'the ranch' we had drinks at Drew and Paul's before I tried Lambi (conch) for the first time — not impressed. The joint birthday party didn't quite come off because we were all so tired. Bummer! In addition, we ballsed up the position of High North.

Why was High North out?

The map looked great but we got the location of the highest point slightly wrong. What happened?

I was rushing around working on my own with a film crew. Kathy was inside calculating stuff. I gave her a bearing to High North of 60°. It was 60° from the baseline. I didn't give Kathy all the info so Kathy took the reading to be from North. As you can see this explains why we got it 30° wrong.


Day 7 — Rest Day

The world's most expensive spuds

This was the first of two days off. I was woken at around 7.30 when my girlfriend phoned from home — good job or I wouldn't have bothered getting up at all. Anyway, I loved hearing from her. Had breakfast with the guys. As of the previous day I was happy as a sand boy. Today Kathy and I plan to host a party so we went into town to get some stuff. Two bottles of Gin come to $EC36 (about £10, or about $15US) which I thought was fine. Then I bought 28 potatoes (two each) — $EC40! No wonder alcoholism rules here.

The party went well — the staff from the hotel came along. At around 8 we left for a big drum concert — bloody great. Someone had a go at Ellen because she stood in their way and she was very upset. I thought she was a little paranoid but she wanted to leave in a big group. David and Mikey wouldn't come. J and I walked the girls back to the hotel and returned to get David and Mikey. It was a shame because I started talking to a representative of Friends of the Earth — a sadly misinformed man but didn't have time to get to know him. Then a woman engaged me in conversation. She was convinced that HIV was caused by white men in a lab as a deliberate attack on black people. Otherwise she seemed well educated. I offered to talk with her some time when I was more sober. We got back to the hotel at midnight, had a few more drinks and went for a moonlight swim. Stupid but fun.


Day 8 — Rest Day

Jonathan's Black Bags — not the ones under his eyes

I was really hungover and spent the morning clearing up after the party. Then I had breakfast and Jonathan came over. He had trouble with his loo. The effluent wouldn't flush away. So each time he went to the loo, he scooped out any solid matter and put it in a black bag. Then at night he threw it away in the bin when he couldn't be seen. This was typical of Jonathan because he was so kind that he didn't want his cleaner to have to deal with the floaters in his toilet. Regardless of the risk of embarrassment to himself.